Business Licensing in Seattle
These information pages can help you get started in learning about some of the laws and registration requirements that may apply to your experiences on Airbnb. These pages include summaries of some of the rules that may apply to different sorts of activities, and contain links to government resources that you may find helpful.
Please understand that these information pages are not comprehensive, and are not legal advice. If you are unsure about how local laws or this information may apply to you or your Experience, we encourage you to check with official sources or seek legal advice.
Please note that we don’t update this information in real time, so you should confirm that the laws or procedures have not changed recently.*
If I’m hosting Experiences in Seattle, am I operating a “business” in the eyes of the law?
If you expect to earn money or other benefits from hosting, then yes, you will be considered a business under the law.
Are there registration requirements for Seattle businesses?
Yes. If you are operating a business in Seattle, you are required to register with the City of Seattle.
Note that different cities have different license requirements and rules. The discussion below applies if you are operating within the city limits of Seattle. If your business includes or extends to other cities, you should determine whether other licenses are required. A good resource to check for requirements in different jurisdictions is the State’s Business Licensing Wizard.
Washington also requires certain types of businesses to register with the state Department of Revenue. However, most Experiences shouldn’t fall within these business types. In general, state business registration is not required unless your revenues exceed $12,000 per year, you have employees, or require other specialized licenses to conduct your business. For more information, see the State DOR website.
How can I register as a business in Seattle?
If you meet the Seattle’s definition of a “business,” you need to register with the City before you host any experience.
The City of Seattle offers three ways to register: online, in person, or by mail. More details can be found here.
Below are the steps to register. This list is by no means exhaustive, so please check out the City’s website and contact the City of Seattle or speak to a lawyer to make sure you’ve met all of the requirements.
Step 1: Choose your business structure. First, you’ll need to choose your preferred business structure: a Sole Proprietorship, Partnership, Corporation, or a Limited Liability Company. Go here to learn more about what these different types of business structures mean.
Sole Proprietorships are the simplest way to start a new business if you’re the only business owner and person responsible for your business’s assets and liabilities. Other business structures typically require additional fees and filings with the Secretary of State, which are not required for Sole Proprietorships. See here for more information.
Step 2: Choose your business name. You’ll also need to name your new business. You won’t need to fill out any additional forms if you plan to use your own name (such as “John Smith”) for your business. Since Experience Hosts on Airbnb typically use their own name on their Listings, this option should generally work for Hosts.
If you don’t want to use your own legal name for your business, you must identify and register your “trade name” with the State. In order to register a trade name, you will need to file a new Business License Application with the State [See step 6 below]. First make sure the name you want is not being used by someone else. The site here identifies locations that should be searched to make sure the trade name is available. Then submit a Business License Application as described in Step 6 below, and check the box on the form for “New Trade Name.” The fee for filing the Business License Application is $19, and the additional fee for including a Trade Name Registration is $5.
Step 3: Choose your business location. To register with the City, you’ll need to include the address where you run your business (i.e., a business address, shared workspace, or at home). If you run your business in a home or apartment, you must comply with the City’s “Home Occupation” rules. In general, you’re allowed to run a business out of your own home in Seattle, so long as it doesn’t interfere with residents of the neighborhood. If you’re using someone else’s home, or if you have employees or business guests visiting the property (such that parking and other neighborhood concerns may arise), then you may be subject to inspection or penalty. Other considerations apply. See here for details.
Step 4: File your Application with the City. Before conducting any business in the City (i.e., before you host an Experience or Tour), you’ll need to file your license application (called an “Application for Business License Tax Certificate”). You can do this online here, or visit the City’s business licensing office in person.
You’ll be asked to identify your business structure (“Type of Business”), business name, business location(s), and describe the activities and service you will provide.
Step 5: Pay your City Registration fee. You’ll need to pay a registration fee when you file your application. If your anticipated annual revenues are less than $20,000, the fee will be $55. If your expected revenues are more than $20,000 (up to $499,999), the fee will be $110.
Registration must be renewed each year by January 1. Renewal registration fees ($55 or $110) are calculated based on how much you actually earned from your business in the preceding tax year. Registration expires December 31. There is a one-month grace period, and then a $10 late fee starting Feb 1, to $20 after February.
Step 6 (If needed): File a Business License Application with the State Department of Revenue. If your revenues will exceed $12,000 in a calendar year, you will need to register with the State Department of Revenue by filing a State Business License Application. In addition, if you need to register a trade name, or if you need other licenses or permits (besides a City of Seattle license) to conduct your business, then you will likely need to file a State Business License Application.
You can file your State Business License Application online here. You will need to setup an online account (including user ID and password) with the Department of Revenue in order to file your application online. You may also complete the paper form here and return it by mail or in person.
The fee for a State Business License Application is $19. The State Business License generally remains in effect and does not require additional annual fees unless you make changes to the business (by, for example, registering a new trade name, changing the ownership, or hiring additional employees). See here for more information.
Example: Anne is an Experience host who runs experiences one week per month where she brings her guests to her favorite sushi restaurants in Seattle. She runs her experiences alone, and makes about $800 per month, which helps her supplement her earnings as an artist. Anne registers as a business in Seattle before hosting her first Experience. She:
- Picks a Sole Proprietorship structure;
- Decides to use her own legal name to register as a business (that’s how she lists her Experience on Airbnb anyway);
- Picks her own home as her business address;
- Registers her business with the City and pays her $55 registration fee.
If and when Anne’s revenue exceeds $12,000 per year, Anne files a State Business License Application at a cost of $19. At that point, Anne has paid $74 in fees to register her business.
Anne will be required to renew her City Business License the following year, at an annual cost of $55 (or $110, if her revenue exceeds $20,000). Anne’s State Business License remains in effect and does not require any additional fees.
So long as Anne’s business revenue is less than approximately $56,000 per year, Anne will qualify for a Small Business B Tax Credit. The Tax Credit is applied automatically when she completes her online return with the State Department of Revenue, and so she owes no taxes to the State. So long as her revenue does not exceed $100,000, Anne will also not owe any taxes to the City.
Is there anything else I should be thinking about?
Yes. You should consider the following -
Activities and licenses
Depending on the activities involved in your Experience, you may need to register, obtain licenses, or follow specific rules that apply to that activity. Our section on the various activity specific topics covers some of the typical activities, but it is not exhaustive. You should always check with the City or speak to a lawyer to determine which permits and licenses may be required for the experiences you are offering.
If you plan to hire employees as part of your business, you may also be required to obtain an employer identification number (EIN) from the IRS.
Note: A sole proprietor without employees can use their Social Security Number instead of EIN. The IRS also provides other useful information on taxes that apply to small businesses.
Tax and accounting
You should also check what tax and accounting rules apply to you, as you may need to pay personal income and sales tax in addition to business property tax. Also make sure you have the right insurance in place to cover all the activities you will be providing.
What resources are available to me to help me get set up as a business?
We encourage you to take advantage of the free resources offered by the Seattle Office of Economic Development and the State Office for Regulatory Innovation and Assistance.
Are there additional laws that apply to me as a result of my being a registered business?
Yes. Several consumer protection laws, like the Federal Trade Commission Act and Washington Consumer Protection Act require you to truthfully describe your Experience in your Listing so your guests can make informed decisions. This means that:
- The information you provide to Guests must be accurate and not misleading;
- You accurately and completely describe in your Listing the main characteristics of your Experience, as well as what is included and any special terms and conditions (for example, my favorite local craft cocktail bar Experience includes the first round of drinks, but guests must pay for additional drinks out of pocket);
- You do not offer a service that you do not intend to provide;
- Your price is accurate, and you do not List an Experience at one price and then charge an additional fee when your guests get there.
In sum, this means that you need to provide the services advertised in your Listing, within the advertised dates and times, at the advertised price. For more information, the FTC provides helpful guidance on truth-in-advertising, that we encourage you to review.
*Airbnb is not responsible for the reliability or correctness of the information contained in any links to third party sites (including any links to legislation and regulations).
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